As much as I am all for achieving mental wellness, I also believe it is important to not forget the past. It helps us compare where we are now to where we once were, so we can fully applaud ourselves and our newly embraced bacon.
Since I’m promoting mental health through this blog, I figured I should probably share my personal, come-to-Jesus story that led me leaps-and-bounds to where I am today. (And also to show you that I’m not just blowing hot air out of my ass… Only my cat gets to smell that side of me.)
I wrote this memoir shortly after my experience (which occurred three years ago) so that I could remind myself how I went from floppy, uncooked bacon to thick, crispy, full-of-greasy-goodness bacon, and that there’s always more bacon to look forward to. While it may not seem like it has a happy ending, it was the moment I really began to heal (or, to keep the bacon analogy going, “cook”).
While I kept my name in the following account, I did change the names of most of the individuals I refer to.
This is an “R-rated” post, as there is a lot of swearing. I did not censor the language so as to accurately convey how I felt throughout the experience.
***YES, ANOTHER DISCLAIMER***
The following account deals with suicidal thoughts and depression. It is written as honestly and accurately as possible to help empower others facing similar challenges. However, it may trigger those who are struggling with their own mental health. Please exercise caution if you should choose to read on. Be safe, take care of yourself, and love the one you is.
As Bad As You Think
“Hm, ah, um, yeah, that’s good, yes.” The plump, round-faced patient compadre straightened her giant glasses on the bridge of her nose whilst hungrily examining her tray of oatmeal, toast, fruit, and orange juice. She held her fork and spoon at the ready, unsure of where to begin her eating pleasure. “You going to eat that?” She pointed at my fruit cup.
I gladly surrendered the cup of dried up apple and melon slices to the hungry fanatic sitting across from me. Nothing on my tray appealed to me. I had only nibbled the corners of my toasted bread. “You can have it all, if you like.” I nudged my tray towards the woman, whose magnified eyes doubled in circumference as she sized up the offer of additional portions.
“Hm, ah, thank you, I would like that indeed, yes.”
The only item I kept for myself was the chocolate breakfast shake. I would also snag a ginger ale before heading back to my room. I always preferred a filling drink over a mediocre meal. Especially those with bubbles.
I glanced around the crowded community room being utilized as a dining space. I had noticed the staff also used it as an arts and crafts room for the other patients throughout the day. As patients filed in with their meals, I observed the queer individuals with whom I would be residing. Over the next few days, hours or weeks, depending on the final verdict. A large woman took up two chairs at one table; her hospital gown was clearly not large enough to close at the back, but she was likely too large for any of the scrubs on hand. One of the hospital workers was passing behind the woman’s table and inevitably caught a glimpse of what was back there. He did not mask his disturbed shudder.
Another patient—a man bearing an eerie resemblance to Bill Cosby, only of smaller stature—weaved between the tables and chairs, but never actually sat down. He maintained an angry expression. Another man, who was quite ancient, napped in a chair in the back corner of the room. His hands were still clasped to his walker and his head hung midair. His legs were spread apart, revealing a tad too much thigh.
Medical technicians monitored the room, differentiated from the rest of the floor’s staff by their dark blue scrubs. They all looked so young; not much older than myself at 23 years old.
I stuck around just long enough for the techs notice I wasn’t isolating myself from the group during breakfast. I then quietly made an exit.
“Diane, you’re not allowed to eat extras,” a tech scolded the woman to whom I had just given my meal. I quickened my pace down the hallway.
My room was one of the last in the corridor, so I had plenty of sights along the way. I passed one tall, thick-set patient with dark disheveled hair and brown scrubs. He stared at the ceiling in bewilderment as he walked from one end of the hall before turning around and retracing his steps precisely.
I peered into the room next to mine. A middle-aged woman was lying on her back in bed, hands stretched straight upward. This floor apparently had a fascination with ceilings.
The bubble of composure I somehow maintained whenever others were around—a sensation of suspended clarity at the very top of my head—popped as soon as I sat down on the bed in my “room.” My oversized blue scrubs pressed against my frail frame, the pockets of air puffing out at the legs and the sleeves. Tears burned my eyes once again as I allowed my mind to resume its torturous race.
I just wanted to go home.
The previous evening had felt something like a nightmare, but more like the sequence of events in a depressing movie. “You ruined it! You were always allowed! You were always fucking allowed! And you fucking ruined it,” I had screamed in my car on the way to my therapist’s office. “You realize that I can’t in good conscience let you leave here, you understand,” my therapist Anne Marie had said softly with sincere concern. I recalled staring at my shaking hands through blurred vision as I leaned forward on the ottoman in Anne Marie’s office, feeling absolutely hopeless. I couldn’t believe it; I had lost. All this work, all this time, and I had lost.
Anne Marie had asked me who I wanted to take me to the hospital. I told her to call my dad. My therapist dialed him, but discovered he was out of town in Ohio caring for my grandparents. How did I not know he was gone? Perhaps the family had mentioned it to me in passing, but I had been in such an isolated bubble of misery and mental exhaustion that I had forgotten.
I then told Anne Marie to call Mom. It was painfully evident in Mom’s tone that my timing sucked, although she was kind enough not to say it outright. It was decided that my boyfriend, Charlie, would leave work early (it was one o’clock in the afternoon) to come take me to the hospital; Mom would meet us there.
“I spent my whole life growing up being a mom, I never took care of myself, I’m so sorry, I tried, Mom, I never even let myself have crushes because I was scared, I never let my guard down, I never had friends, I thought I wasn’t allowed… I’ve missed everything.” My pathetic whimpering was nonsensical through the phone. I felt mortified after every single word.
The silence on the other end of the phone screamed both guilt and sustained urge to defensively lash out. But Mom said kindly and simply, “Well, I’m sorry for what part I may have played in that.” More guilt flooded into my gut. I’ve made her feel bad, I’m awful.
When Charlie finally came to take me to the hospital, I spent the entire car ride with my face in my hands, palms greasy from brushing back my unkept hair. When was the last time I washed it?
“Anna Hubbel!” A loud short woman with a raspy voice called out to the main waiting area of the hospital. Oh god. I tried to make light of the situation with sarcastic comments about the comical psychotic aura as Charlie walked with me to the room where a nurse checked my vitals.
Every time Charlie glanced down at his phone, I would ask, “Is that her? What’s she saying? Is she mad? Don’t say anything. Is she coming?”
After my vitals were checked, the nurses had me change into a gown. I had to give Charlie all of my belongings, as I wasn’t allowed to have anything that could be used as a potential “weapon.” I was then escorted to an isolation room, where they gave me a bland plate of cafeteria turkey and broccoli. I ended up waiting around in that room for what felt like a couple hours. It was actually quite fun at this point; or perhaps I had simply begun trailing a steady incline to hysteria. After being interrogated repeatedly by nurses, psychiatrists, and social workers about why I had almost taken those large green-and-white anti-depressants, I amused myself by watching the drunk man dance around on the other side of the window of the locked room. When Mom arrived, before she could see me, she and Charlie had to speak with the social worker about what they knew. I laughed as nurses struggled to round up the drunken fool into his adjacent room. He kept winking at me, delighted to have an audience.
It was oddly sensational, the new confused state of mind I had at that moment. It had seemed all social norms and constructs no longer presented any fearful awareness to me in this otherwise traumatizing experience. When I had returned my pee sample to the nurse, I said with a playful sniff, “I’m not a druggy, I swear,” causing her eyes to widen with concern. When another nurse came in to take some blood, I wailed in feigned pain before guffawing obnoxiously, “Jk! Ha, I scared you!”
However, the playfulness died down once Mom came into the room. Was she upset? She looked very tired. She sighed. “I was up late last night talking to your brother about his Crohn’s Disease until one o’clock in the morning, then I get the call from your therapist today, and I’m just whipped,” Mom groaned. My heart thumped within the valleys of my stomach.
The social worker informed them that a decision on whether I should stay overnight would be made after she spoke with my therapist. About an hour later, she returned and said they had determined I should “not be released to the emotionally abusive household,” because it could further harm my mental state. Is that possible?
I could have slapped that social worker silly. What the hell are you doing?? You just implied that I was abused by my family and my mom is right there! Mom looked at me with that wide-eyed stare. If there hadn’t been other people around, that would have been the end of Anna Hubbel.
“What did you say to your therapist? Why would she say that? What, does she think we abuse you?” Mom’s voice was slowly rising. I half expected blood to squirt out of her bottom lip and the veins in her eyeballs to explode.
The lump of guilt rose to my throat. “I think she must have misunderstood when I said I had emotionally abused myself and felt like I had to be a mom growing up.” I’m not accusing you of anything, please believe me.
Mom looked at me steadily, but a nurse interrupted just then (just before I was ready to drop to my knees in tears at Mom’s feet). I was prompted into a wheelchair that would take me to who-knows-where.
I fought the urge to cry, restraining myself from throwing my arms around Charlie and begging him to hold me forever. But if Charlie was worried about me in the slightest, he gave no indication. I was the unstable whacko girlfriend checking into the looney bin. So I held myself back and sucked in my tears.
As I settled into the chair, the drunken bloke was also about to be wheeled off to a room in the opposite direction. He flashed a surprisingly white grin (for a drunk, he has quite lovely teeth) at me. “It’s all gonna be okay, ya hear me,” he said softly. “‘Cause you got family and people that love ya, feel me? I just gots myself. But you’re gonna be alright.”
I never saw that man again.
Mom and Charlie walked alongside me until we reached the ward. They each gave me a hug goodnight. I looked to Charlie for some heartwarming, loving gesture that was never given. Tears blurred my vision as I watched them disappear behind the locked, glass sliding doors.
A daunting silence, full of sadness and foreshadowing regrets, loomed at the end of the hall, where my room awaited.
A young male technician—dark hair, quiet demeanor, most likely a weekend drinker—gave me some scrubs and briefly explained the schedule for tomorrow. Breakfast at 8:00 a.m., group activities at 10:00 a.m., lunch at 12:00 p.m., open gym time at 4:00 p.m. He left me alone with no light, no extra blankets (it was quite cold), no clock. How the fuck am I supposed to go to any of these things if I don’t know what time it is?
Funny, they would keep the room void of anything with which I could harm myself yet they left me with the most harmful thing that brought me there in the first place…
Why didn’t I reach out to anyone for help? Why didn’t I allow myself to do anything I wanted? I trusted the wrong fucking people. I’m an idiot. Everyone hated me, and all along I thought I was doing the right thing. I’m a fucking fuckhead with no friends, no good memories, and it’s all my fucking fault.
Nurses and techs came in every hour (or so it felt—there was no clock) to check my vitals throughout the night. The hall light remained brightly on, and each time I attempted to close my door just enough to darken the room, it wasn’t long before a tech tapped it open to make sure I was alive. A gap wider than the last was left each time, ensuring that sleep was not welcome here.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of a man speaking soulfully to another patient. “See, God is good, brother. I be where you at a year ago, and it feel bad now, but this is as bad as it gets. Can only get better from here. I was in a very bad place, a sad place when I came here last year. But I worked through my hard stuff, and God is good. I couldn’t be happier, man. So you get through it. God bless you, brother.”
I sat up in bed and looked around the room. Everything from the night before, the last few months, all my regrets—what I had nearly done that brought me to this awful place—came flooding in as the morning drowsiness wore off. My breathing sped up and the tears poured out uncontrollably. I felt like a pathetic child that just wanted to be held. I would do anything to be held and comforted. It occurred to me that I had felt this way most of my life.
“Miss Anna? Hi miss, sorry to bother you.” The man I had heard speaking—a janitor, from the looks of it; he had a mop—knocked on my open door. He was a tall, slender black man with long dreadlocks; he wore a red bandana. He pulled behind him a janitor’s cart and was holding a fresh garbage bag, to replace my current one, which currently only held snotty tissues. “I just be a minute,” he assured.
I nodded, swallowing my sobs. He looked at me with gentle eyes and asked, “You alright, miss? Now, now, it’ll be alright, miss. Everything will be okay, you’ll see. Is there something I can do, miss?”
I again swallowed the large lump that kept forming in my throat. “I want my mom,” I blubbered. “I want to go home, I don’t want to be here.” I yearned for someone I loved to peer in the doorway and run to my side, wrapping their arms tightly around me, no questions asked.
“I understand that, miss,” the man said kindly. “You know, oftentimes these things happen to us and we don’t know why. Most likely we experienced death at some time when we be kids.” I stared at him, mesmerized by this man’s passion and posture; he swayed as he spoke, arms moving as if to rap lyrics. “When it comes to grieving, ya see, no one remembers the little people. The little people don’t know they’re allowed to grieve, ya see. No one tells them they can. So the little people, they just watch as all the grownups grieve and get their emotions heard. Then the grieving hits us later on, ya see.” He leaned forward and looked into my eyes intently. “I don’t pretend to know things, no ma’am. But I know what it’s like to be real low. I know it don’t feel like it now, but you got loved ones, so you’ll be alright, miss.” He finished changing my bin and gathered his cart together. “Let me know if you need anything, Miss Anna. I’ll be around. God bless, miss.”
I never saw that man again.
I sat on my bed, unsure of the time and how the hell I was to know when another scheduled activity was to take place. I noticed an intercom on the wall to my left, toward the foot of my bed. I crawled over and pressed the red call button and waited for a response.
“Yeah?” A harsh woman’s voice shot through.
At least pretend to be nice, bitch. I responded with attempts to control my sobs. “Can you send someone please to my room? I don’t know what to do.”
“Are you ok,” the voice returned robotically.
“I just want to call my mom and I don’t know what to do, can you send a nurse, please? Anna Hubbel’s room.”
A pause was followed by, “Okay, hold on a sec.”
I waited for twenty minutes, crying all the while. Finally, a tech graced my doorway to check my vitals again. It was a young girl this time—blonde ponytail, brown eyes.
“Can I call my mom,” I asked again. “I asked for a nurse earlier, but no one came.”
The tech retained a blank look on her face. Clearly, she didn’t care. “I can check. Did your social worker come in yet?”
“I didn’t know there was one coming.”
The girl sighed in exasperation—as if it was my fault. “I’ll let them know,” she said as she unsnapped the blood pressure band from my wrist. She disappeared around the doorway, leaving me alone again.
I stood up and wobbled to the tiny bathroom in my room. I turned on the light and scowled at the mirror. Greasy hair and skin, swollen eyes squinting above giant, pale puffs, and speckles of dark stubble above my lip from neglection.
And all they had given me was a wash cloth and a tiny bar of soap.
As soon as I had plopped back down on my bed—after having scrubbed my armpits ferociously with the pathetic bar provided—a tall woman in purple scrubs appeared in the doorway. “Hi Anna, I’m Kara.” Kara pulled up the chair from the desk opposite my bed and sat down without an invitation. “I’m your assigned social worker. Can you tell me why you’re here today?”
I’m here because I’m a fucking loser that fucking wasted her life letting others fuck with her fucking head thinking I was a fucking good girl when all I am is a fucking puppet. “I came close to taking a bunch of pills.”
Kara scribbled on her notepad. “And why were you considering doing that?”
I’ve said this to like a thousand people already – shouldn’t my whole story be on file somewhere by now? “Basically, I was in a four-year relationship that ended a few months ago that I learned was actually an emotionally abusive one. Turns out I’ve been emotionally abusing myself my entire life, living on eggshells and never thinking or speaking for myself. The information goes over and over again through my head and I can’t stop obsessing about what I could and should have done. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore and just wanted to go home.”
“Yeah, you know… The ultimate ‘home.'” I pointed up.
“I see. Are you in a relationship now?”
“Yes. And I’m happy. Which is why I’m not. Does that make sense?” I think it’s a good relationship. But he hasn’t even called me yet. Why doesn’t he love me? What time is it?
“I see.” Kara scribbled some more in her notebook. “Well, what I’m going to do is send a psychiatrist up to see you. He will decide what medication to try you on. He’ll want to keep you here a couple days, maybe longer. We’ll see.” She stood up to leave.
“Wait, I tried asking someone if I could call my mom. Can you see if they’re sending someone to help me?”
“Sure, no problem,” Kara nodded politely before sweeping out the door.
Not a minute after, an older fellow wearing a blue button-down shirt and large bifocals appeared in the doorway, holding a small black Bible close to his chest. “May I come in?” He seemed friendly. I nodded. “I’m a deacon. The floor nurse informed me that you were hoping to talk with a priest. I’m not a priest, but hopefully I can be of some assistance.” He smiled genuinely, with a hint of insecurity.
I faintly recalled expressing interest in speaking with a priest the night prior. “I did, yeah.”
The deacon was notably pleased. He moved the chair previously occupied by the social worker closer to my bedside. I was sitting up, legs crossed, shoulders hunched. I was still very aware of my disgusting appearance and kept involuntarily brushing my upper lip stubble. “You can call me Tim,” the deacon said. “So what is it that brings you here?”
I was rather annoyed with having to repeat the story again and again. “Emotionally abused,” “four-year relationship with a sex addict,” “at 10 years old, lost baby sister,” “missed out on childhood,” “never had any friends,” “I’m a fraud,” “wasted time,” “almost took pills.” Blah, blah, blah.
Deacon Tim nodded silently along during my retelling. When I finished, he carried on as if he grasped what was plaguing me. He gets none of it. “Friends, yes, friends are important. My daughter, her college friends were like a second family to her. She’s still in touch with many of them now.” He stopped when it was apparent that he was just validating my regrets. “But, um, you mentioned you’re in a relationship now, yes? Is he good to you?”
I nodded. Well, at least, I figured I must be happy. Because things felt so different—so liberating—being apart from my ex. But perhaps it was less that Charlie made me happy and more that, for the first time in my life, I was free from an emotionally abusive attachment.
“Maybe you’re feeling guilty because you’re finally happy, and you’ve never known what real happiness feels like,” Deacon Tim theorized.
I smiled politely. He meant well, but he wasn’t helping at all. All he did was remind me that Charlie—as great as I was portraying him in my mind—still hadn’t called me since leaving the hospital last night.
So Deacon Tim said a prayer with me, said he would continue to keep me in his prayers, and he said his goodbye. As unhelpful as he was, I was surprised at how increasingly easy it was becoming to talk about my problems.
I never saw Deacon Tim again.
“Phone call for Anna Bugle! Who’s Anna Bubble? Anna Bubble!” The large woman’s voice carried across the corridor.
Once I realized it wasn’t just random, insane screaming, I jumped from my bed and hustled down the hall. As I approached the patient lounge area, a nurse yelled, “Rhonda, no yelling!” Rhonda let the phone hang from the cord as she waddled away. I picked up the heavy, black receiver. “Hello?”
“Hey kiddo, it’s Mom.”
I swallowed back tears of relief. “Hey,” I squeaked. Keep it together, man.
“Do you want me to bring you lunch?” Mom asked. “I was thinking of bringing you Wendy’s or a sub.”
“Yes, please,” I replied eagerly. Finally, some real food.
“Okay, I plan to head out within the hour. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Are they being nice to you?”
“There’s no clock in my room. I have no idea what’s going on or what I’m supposed to do.” The tears were pouring now, but I managed to keep them silent.
“What the heck? Well, I’ll be there soon. Hang in there, kiddo!” We said our goodbyes and I felt a little better, knowing Mommy was coming.
After what I could only assume was a painfully long hour sitting alone with nothing to do in my room, I once again had to undergo the embarrassment of a stranger witnessing my gross appearance. The psychiatrist—a tall man of Indian descent—came striding in, pulling up the chair and sitting down in one swift motion, as if making a quick stop on a conveyor belt.
“Hello, how are you doing today?” His Indian accent was thick and the concern in his voice was mechanical. He was clearly experienced and immune to empathy.
“Okay, considering,” I cynically replied. He just nodded at me, staring blankly with a pasted smile for a moment. Finally, he said, “And why would you say you are here?”
I did a mental eye-roll as I once again told the story. “I don’t feel that way anymore, I won’t hurt myself, I just want to stop obsessing.” Blah, blah, blah.
The psychiatrist nodded again. “Would you say you have drastic mood changes?”
“Um no, not really. Mainly I just obsess.”
“So your mood drastically changes, yes?”
“No, it’s the obsessing I want to stop.”
“Would you say you’re not eating?”
“Quite the contrary. I eat quite a lot. I just don’t like the food here.”
He scribbled some notes in a yellow legal pad with no acknowledgment to my response. “I’m going to prescribe mirtazapine, which is an antidepressant and will also increase your appetite, since you’re having trouble eating. Also, lamotrigine, which will decrease your mood swings. Both should help you sleep, so I’ll have you take them at bedtime. Sound good?”
Sure, except you got everything completely wrong and ignored everything I just said, but okay.
“When can I go home? They told me it should just be a night or two.”
“I’d like to keep you here a week, just to observe how you react to the new medication.”
I swallowed hard. “I’d stay with my family. I know I won’t try it again, I promise.”
The psychiatrist nodded, not really hearing what I said. “Let’s keep you here the weekend, and if you seem to respond well, you can go home Monday. Okay?”
Before I could respond, he was up and out in one swift motion.
Again, I was left alone with my mind.
If I had just been honest. If I had only trusted my gut. If I had only just talked to someone. If I had just focused on me. I could have had friends. I could have been who I was meant to be. I would have been happy with myself. I could have lived my life free, rather than constantly envying those around me who were free to be themselves and hating them for it. I was a jealous bitch. I kept waiting around for things to change. But I was supposed to change it. I was allowed to change it. But I was scared. I was pathetic. I didn’t have a mind of my own, so I was insecure, ugly, and self-righteous. I was so scared of doing the wrong thing that it paralyzed me from actually doing the right thing. From being actively good, rather than reactively good. Every day was a lie. I pretended to be and feel and believe a certain way and suffocated the truth. Because I had been trained to suffocate my truth. Because my feelings and emotions were invalidated. All. The. Time. I was the good girl. That’s it. Everyone said I was, so I had to be. I didn’t let myself openly love, hate, or want. What a fucking waste.
“Hey there, kiddo.” I sat up in bed, my trance broken at the sound of Mom’s voice. “I brought you a sub and a salad.”
My eyes filled with tears again. I reached out my arms, like a toddler after her first day of kindergarten. A sob escaped me.
Mom quickly met my embrace and held me tightly. The feeling was strange, as I could barely recall the last time we had hugged. “It’s okay,” Mom comforted. I could tell she was trying to give off positive energy to make me feel better.
I pulled away, sniffling, and wiped my eyes. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, nobody tells me anything, and there’s no clock in here, so I have no idea what time it is, the janitor has been the only nice person.” I said it all in one breath.
“Oh geez.” Mom rolled her eyes. “These hospital quacks. Did you tell them what you wanted? Ask to talk to anybody? You know, if you want to make more decisions for yourself, this is the perfect opportunity to speak up.”
A familiar lump formed in the pit of my stomach. One I had grown accustomed to ignore. I began unwrapping my sub sandwich. So hungry…
“I texted Justin earlier today, to tell him what happened. I said I think his porn addiction really had a negative impact on you,” Mom said nonchalantly. I stopped mid-bite, mortified. “I asked him if anything had happened between you two that might have made you feel guilty.” Sex. She’s talking about sex.
Now my ex thinks he’s the reason I’m in the looney bin. Which he’ll just run away with in his overly romanticized mentality. And did she not trust me when I have said countless times that we never did anything physically?
Mom continued. “He told me that you are one of the most beautiful women he’s ever known, and to reassure you that he has no regrets. That he would never regret being with such a strong woman.”
Here come the tears. This was all just too much information for me to handle. Mom came over to hug me again.
“Oh honey, why does that make you cry? It’s okay, kiddo.”
The sex addict I dated for four years says he doesn’t regret it, great. But I do. I was a miserable person with him. I hated who I was. And I hated him for it. But it wasn’t just him. And now he thinks it was. He made me feel ugly. He made me feel uninteresting. No, I felt that way before. But he made it worse. I just want to go back.
All of this crying made my head spin. And I could barely see as my swollen lids made it difficult to keep my eyes open. I wiped my face on my scrubs.
“Hey, I brought you some clean clothes,” Mom said, changing the subject to a lighter topic. I was grateful. “They gave me a list of items I could bring you. I had to pull the tie string out of the pajama pants, but I’m hoping they’ll fit you so you don’t need it. I also bought you clean underwear, because I wasn’t sure how long you’d have to stay here.”
I allowed myself a chuckle. “Thank you. I would love to shower, but I don’t know the rules. I also need to shave this mess.” I tapped my upper lip.
“Well, did you try asking? Use the intercom and ask for them to send a nurse.”
Yes, but they have yet to send someone from the first time I rang. I pressed the button again.
“Yes?” A different voice came through this time.
“Can someone come tell me what the rules are for showering? No one came the last time I buzzed and I smell like crap.” I felt uncharacteristically blunt.
Mom and I both finished our lunches by the time someone finally came, and it wasn’t even in response to the intercom request; just a tech coming to routinely check vitals again.
“Hi, can she take a shower? She asked a while ago and no one’s answered yet.” Mom was characteristically quick to the point. The tech had just snapped the blood pressure wrap around my arm.
“Um, sure, yeah, she can shower. I’ll let them know.” The tech was the same young blonde tech from earlier. She seemed quite new to the job.
“I’d also like a razor, if I could. I don’t care if someone has to watch me use it, but I need to do something about this.” I gestured to my lip again.
“Um, yeah, okay. I’ll get one for you.” The tech unsnapped the wrap and jotted down the results. “Sorry, this place just makes people forgetful. I’ll be on my way to do one thing, but then I get caught up doing something else. It’s like that with everyone here. I’ll be back with your stuff.” She wheeled the vitals cart out of the room.
I never saw that tech again.
Mom and I talked for a little bit before going for a walk up and down the hallway. The tech never returned, so we stopped another girl in the hall and asked if I could shower. The petit girl with large glasses looked very tired. She nodded and directed me to the shower, which was only blocked off from the hall with a shower curtain, no door. I asked for a towel. The girl looked around as if surprised there weren’t any towels conveniently floating nearby. She left to go get one. I showered, enjoying my dear friend, Hygiene. It was a clumsy shower, as there were no shelves on which to place my soaps. When I finished, there were still no towels. So, I used my dirty scrubs to pat myself dry before putting on the clean clothes Mom had brought. When I returned to my room, I asked Mom if the tech ever brought the razor. She had not. We asked another tech—a young man—if he could bring one. He did (of course it would have to be the guy), and he waited outside the bathroom door while I performed my grooming. Ah, smooth upper lip…
After some time had passed, one of the techs yelled down the hall, “Open gym time! Come on, everybody! Time for exercise!”
“Hey, we should go!” Mom said, excitedly curious. “Let’s see what they have for you to do. Plus, the more they see you out and about, the more likely they’ll consider releasing you sooner.” I agreed.
The gym was a small room with purple walls and a high ceiling. Several male patients violently threw balls at the two basketball hoops, missing the target 90% of the time. These men had silly expressions on their faces. They were friendly, but clearly a little off their rocker. (But who am I to talk?) I wondered what they were in for. The Bill Cosby doppelganger took his basketball playing very seriously it seemed. If the ball bounced away from him, he wanted it back immediately. His teammate—a very tall patient—smiled at me and Mom with his toothless grin.
Mom and I stood off to the side, out of the way of ferocious basketball play. We found a football in a box of gym toys in the corner of the tiny gym space, and began a game of catch with each other. It had been years since I had seen Mom play any kind of sport. Was it kickball or volleyball at a family vacation? Hockey in the driveway? In any case, it was nice (and amusing) to see Mom laughing as she tossed a failed spiral. It was comforting, in a way.
After losing our football to a hyperactive Bill Cosby, Mom and I strolled back down the hallway to the community lounge area. The ancient old man was sleeping in a chair against the wall, identical to his sleeping posture at breakfast—hands on his walker, legs spread apart and all, as if someone had copied and pasted him there. Rhonda sat at one of the two tables, sipping a tiny juice box and taking up two chairs with her enormous backside. Mom and I sat at the other table, opting to put together a 1,000-piece puzzle from one of the bookshelves. We were two pieces short when we finished.
My then-18-year-old sister joined up with us a tad later, taking a shift so Mom could get back to the other seven kids. We talked for a while about my sister’s boyfriend. It was another welcome distraction from the fact that I just really wanted to see Charlie.
Charlie didn’t come to visit until the next day. He didn’t come until the evening, but he did bring me a Wendy’s Baconator, so it was almost forgivable. He didn’t seem very concerned about my situation at all, or even excited to see me. I had been anxiously awaiting his visit, counting the hours (mentally, as there was no clock) until his visit, hoping he would surprise me at any moment. I wanted nothing more than to be held by him; to have my hair stroked. To cry in his arms and have him tell me he loved me and that he missed me. That he would do anything to help me.
But he did no such thing.
Maybe it was because of my unruly appearance. (I shaved and showered for you!) Or maybe he was just biding his time until he could break free from his psycho girlfriend.
Charlie predicted that they would make me stay a full week before releasing me. I hated that idea. I won’t make it that long. “Thanks for the load of confidence,” I remarked sarcastically. Charlie shrugged. “Just sayin’.” I hate when he says that. That, and “It is what it is.” Pointless phrases that only fill space when you don’t care enough to fill it with anything more substantial.
“Carolyn called me yesterday,” I told him. “She said you haven’t been keeping her up-to-date like I had asked.” I directed a playfully annoyed face at him.
Charlie shrugged. “I gave her the phone number.”
But it was important to me that you keep my best friend updated. I’m obviously not high on your priority list. Why? What do I have to do? I would do anything that I knew was important to you, whether you asked me to do it or not. I would go out of my way to help you. But maybe it’s unfair of me to expect you to do the same.
“I should go.” Charlie stood up to leave. But it’s only been an hour…
“It’s going to be okay.” He reverted to a childlike voice when trying to be serious. No, it isn’t. Because you don’t want to be with me. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said, giving my shoulder a gentle squeeze.
I nodded, biting my tongue. And then he was gone.
The next day was very much the same as the last, although sleep had become much easier with the new medication. I wished the techs and nurses would let me sleep in late, but they came in constantly to check my vitals and make sure I wasn’t dead. The psychiatrist popped in around 11:00 a.m. (I estimated, as I still had no damn clock), and told me I could go home tomorrow. I exhaled a sigh of relief. Thank God. Another day or two and I would‘ve ended up staring at the ceiling like the patient next door. I thanked him profusely. He nodded with a pert smile and left me to my day.
I never saw that psychiatrist again.
Thrilled, and having the need to do something, I scurried down the hall to the phone. I called home first to tell Mom the news, then I called Charlie. “Guess what? You were wrong! They’re letting me go home tomorrow!” My voice was filled with playful, egotistic delight.
“Oh. Well. Congratulations!” Charlie was obviously preoccupied with work, but managed to throw in his salutation. Or was he just surprised and disappointed? “I was wrong. Bet you’re quite happy.”
“Very much so. I was going to go crazy any longer in here.” I spotted Rhonda hovering to my left, who was obviously waiting to sit at the chair directly under the phone. This was her spot. “Anyhoo, I just wanted to let you know. I’ll talk to you later.” I hung up the phone.
A nurse rounded the corner, with Rhonda at her heels. “Just a reminder that you are limited one phone call per every couple hours,” the nurse scolded.
Rhonda, you tattletale bitch. “Sorry, I didn’t know. It won’t happen again.” Because I’m outta here, ya mothafuckers!
Charlie came to visit me again that night. He joined me for Open Gym time.
After gym time was over, Charlie grew bored rather quickly. I could tell he was itching to leave. I wondered if he realized we wouldn’t be alone together after I was released from the hospital, because I had to live at home for a week or so, per the conditions of my early release. Would he make the effort to come visit me as often as he could?
I felt desperately alone once again, both during his visit and after he left.
The next day, I tried to pass the time reading one of the books Mom had brought when she visited to give me something to do. Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please! was both a humorous distraction and a discouraging spiral down into a pit of regret for not having taken more independent risks growing up.
Mom came to bring me home early at one o’clock in the afternoon. Before we left, the head nurse on staff sat down with us to go over a “Safety Plan” to ensure I wouldn’t “end up back here again.” I had to go over specific plans of action for times when I felt most depressed. “Go to the park.” “Call a friend.” “Read a book.” “Go to church.” “Knit.” “Throw cheese at the wall.”
The nurse told us she was confident all along that I would get to go home early. Sure, okay, like you really paid any attention. “You are obviously eating well and not isolating yourself, which is a good sign. We keep an eye on things like that.” You just don’t answer the fucking intercom.
We gathered up my things from my room, and like a breath of fresh air, the glass doors to the ward opened, like Heaven’s pearly gates.
I waited outside (it was so heavenly to be outside) the front entrance of the hospital while Mom went to retrieve the car. What now? Even though I had no intention of ever attempting something so stupid that would bring me back to this seclusion of self-inflicted insanity, I knew the shadows of regrets and “should-haves” would continue to simmer. There was no way to change anything; that fact would always remain. It couldn’t be fixed. There was only “moving forward,” people kept telling me. But what was the point of moving forward if the “happiness” of doing so was permanently inflicted with the virus of the past?
The green minivan pulled up to the curb. Eager to get out of the cold, I rushed to the passenger door and quickly snuggled into my seat. I glanced at the car radio.
Thank God, finally a motherfucking clock.